In last week’s blog post, my colleague Tanya reflected on the rush of October – that “month of muchness,” as she keenly calls it. It is a month of feeling unsettled, she explained: a month of building momentum into winter; a month where nothing ever seems to get quite done.
I relate to this sentiment. October has been a blur of continual work and life events. Just this past weekend alone, I hosted a birthday party for my son, went to two other social events, and hosted two work events (family group hikes connected to my business Super Nature Adventures) . The fleeting daylight is a reminder that soon the holiday season will also begin, and before that (and before Thanksgiving!), my family is also planning a trip to Japan (more on that in a later post).
Yet despite all of these events, October also feels far less stressful than it has been in the past, when my career involved some kind of mix of adjuncting, academic research, and/or playing that fall game that academics like to call “going on the job market”…all while also being a parent and spouse.
I do not miss that period at all. In that version of October I not only felt stressed by split in two by competing demands from work and family life. I felt fragmented by two ideas of what I was supposed to be. That version of October caused me to miss my son’s Halloween a few years back because of a conference talk that just so happened to be scheduled the same weekend. That version had squeezing in family time between grant applications, or grading, or job searching. That version lined up midterm exams with trick-or-treat night.
That version of October is all about the denial of the sensory pleasures of autumn (pumpkin picking, apple baking, leaf collecting). That version is cruel to PhDs who also happen to be parents of small kids because it demands that you do the most serious academic work for the most critical deadlines during the period when kids want and dream for you to be silliest.
A few months back I was listening to a “Creative Mornings” podcast that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in connection to my post-ac experiences. In it, Mom Complex CEO and speaker Katherine Wintsch argued that we owe it to ourselves to shift our mindset from the concept of work-life balance to that of work-life wholeness. Work-life balance, she explains, is simply a myth. There is no way that you will find your life in the kind of harmonious sync that the word implies because as soon as it does, there will be a new challenge to throw everything askew.
Perhaps it’s a kid that gets sick. Or, say you are heading to work, and your car breaks down. Maybe you have your schedule completely in balance but then an old friend calls you with a problem that needs to be solved. There will always be something new thrown your way.
When we focus on the idea of wholeness instead, we provide ourselves with the tools for getting through those constant challenges and surprises. Wholeness is what fills you up and what helps you get through the day. Wholeness is also recognizing that self-care is a critical component to getting it all done. Wholeness is not about balancing it all – it’s about providing you with tools that will help you when October rushes past.
Now looking back on post-PhD years, I realize that one of the reasons I left academia was because I wasn’t feeling whole. I needed to find a career that filled me up and allowed me to feel like I wasn’t living two separate lives. So I chose to craft a business connected to the kinds of things that I was missing when I was trying to be a good scholar, instructor, or academic job candidate. My small business creates materials – namely, family hiking packets designed to empower kids – that are all about making time for family outdoors. The work I do gets me outdoors into nature, and is designed to make it possible to spend time with family (on trails, during group hikes) while also getting work done.
I knew that I was looking for ways to bridge the gap that I had felt before but I hadn’t really felt the effects of that choice until this fall – my first fall outside of academia in many may years. Like I said, October was still a very busy month with lots of work, and yet as we start November, I don’t feel that nagging guilt and general bitterness that would haunt me during my busiest grad school years. I feel tired, yes, but also ready for the next adventure.
Wintsch writes, “I think as a society we should move away from acts of balance and more towards acts of wholeness.” I agree, and I think that academia is a great place to start.